Thursday, April 26, 2012

experimentation with french cookies

So right now I have a bit of a love/hate feeling towards the current trendy-cookie, Parisian Macarons.  Firstly, I am not a big fan of trendy things to begin with.  Plus these border on the pretentious, being the latest trend for those of the snootier tastes in sweets.  And to top it all off, the name.  They are nothing like what most North Americans know to be macaroons, which probably came after their French counterpart, and once again, 'Parisian Macarons' just sound sooo pompous.

However, that's all surface stuff; a name and a reputation, and anyone who has been exposed to pretty much any type of children's programing knows that that's not the stuff to base opinions on.
Besides, you only have to look at the pretty little things to see what the fuss is all about.

They start as a plain almond meringue type cookie.  From there, they can take on just about any type of flavour or colour.  So I finally decided to see if they were really as special as everyone seems to think.  My local bakery does them in chocolate, which suits me just fine, and let me tell you, they are marvelous!  A crisp shell enveloping a soft centre wrapped around the icing, all layers of light chocolaty sweetness.  They are fabulous!  But man, do they ever come with a price tag.  Ok, so nothing break-the-bank-worthy, but $2.50 for a cookie makes me a feel a little guilty.

So, the natural progression for a crafty-schmafty such as myself: I can make some!  I had heard of the difficulties involved, how it's a delicate recipe with tricky little steps like not closing the oven door all the way when they cook, but I was willing to give it a try.  I found this recipe from Martha Stewart, and checked the reviews.  Some positive and some negative, I figured it was a safe place to start.  Most the ingredients are stuff I had around the house anyways, so it wasn't too far out of my comfort zone.

Well, to skip to the end, my results were twofold, which I'll explin later.

My batter worked well, but I made a mess when trying to pipe out the cookies.  Some comments complained that the recipe didn't allow the cookies to set long enough before baking, so I left them for a while longer to be on the safe side.  The recipe doesn't say where in the oven to cook them (it should be in the centre, if they're too close to either element they rise to fast and this cracks the shell).  When I took out the ones on the bottom that were cracking, I forgot to put the spoon back into the door to hold it open so I lost the little feet that were forming on the good ones.  And a few in the middle didn't quite cook through and wouldn't come off the sheet.  So yeah, they're pretty delicate.

Here'a what I got out of this: success, in a sense.  From a recipe that was for a dozen cookies, I had six turn out, which is not to bad all things considering.  The recipe took six egg whites (although it made way to much icing so some could be cut back there).  I didn't realize that the cracked macaron shells would just crumble (I figured I'd just use them anyway, but couldn't).  Plus, having to bake with the oven open means that the kids have to be elsewhere.  So with the cost of half a dozen eggs (with leftover yolks), a few hours of your time, finding someone to watch the kids, and all the wasted food, yes, you can make your own macarons, but $2.50 at the bakery is a better deal.  Besides, they don't really last well and even six macarons is a lot to eat in just a few days.

So, I will continue to love the little French cookies, and knowing me, yes, I will try to make them again, even in different flavors, but I certainly won't feel guilty about treating myself to a perfectly formed, just the right mix of crisp and soft, chocolaty, light and crumbly delight from the bakery.


PS: I avoided using any silly French phrases on purpose, and yes, it was hard.

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